When she started investigating the peculiar homicide case at the center of Serial, Sarah Koenig never considered it might one day get her parodied on Saturday Night Live. Sure enough, though, last winter, Koenig went through the surreal experience of watching a bespectacled Cecily Strong portray her on SNL. By that point, though, such elite public tribute did not seem at all out of proportion with the phenomenon her podcast had become.
Ordinarily, a podcast is considered a hit if it gets to 300,000 downloads total. Serial has been downloaded 90 million times, worldwide. Its regular listenership per episode is more than double the audience of a Mad Men season premiere. Despite what a league of evangelical late-adopters might think, Serial did not invent the podcast–but it did manage to eventize it. And now Koenig and co-creator Julie Snyder are gearing up to follow their first irresistible story. the mystery of whether Adnan Syed truly did murder Hae Min Lee, with more stories. As the pair just revealed during their panel at the Cannes Lions festival, where they teamed up with agency McKinney, they might have even more stories than expected.
“We came out here to talk with brands and marketers about the possibility of making relationships to support new shows and new ideas that we have for shows,” Snyder says over the phone before the panel. “We’re not making an announcement exactly–it’s more a matter of just saying we have a lot of ideas and we have a lot of plans.”
Adds Koenig, “We have other ambitions beyond just continuing Serial as a thing with seasons two and three.”
In addition to the previously announced continuation of Serial, the creators are considering launching other podcasts to accommodate more varieties of stories. Although the two immediately shoot down the idea that these potential other programs would be named CSI-style, a la Serial: Kentucky Nights, they’re certain that listeners will be aware the shows are brought to them by the creators of Serial, no matter the title.
“I think it’s hard to say before the shows exist, but we have a certain shared sensibility, and this sounds sort of obnoxious to say but we have very high standards for quality,” Koenig says. “We both recognize what those are without having to talk too much about it. So there will be something recognizable. But part of it I think is to just mess around and experiment and just try shit because it just feels like, why not?”
After the radical success of the first season, Koenig and Snyder were suddenly faced with the freedom of being able to write their own ticket. They proved there is a vast, hungry audience for the kind of stories they gravitate toward, and that the distribution mechanism works. People know who they are now and a lot of doors opened for them because of it. Having all this freedom, however, hasn’t changed their criteria in looking for new stories to tell.
“The main thing that Julie, [producer] Dana [Chivvis], and I all shared was we wanted to care a lot about the story we’re doing and we want to make sure enough was going on to complicate it,” Koenig says. “The challenge for the kind of thing we’re trying to do is to make sure it can sustain over time, where there is enough to talk about, there is enough happening that you’re gonna stay with us if you’re listening, which is something we obviously thought constantly about for season one.”
Another thing the Serial crew discussed a lot following the first season was how to adjust for the impact of internet participation. The sheer abundance of Reddit sleuthing caused Koenig and co. to back away from certain kinds of stories, and also have conversations with sources to warn them that certain information may come out. The lack of control over flow of information may limit the discretion they can offer interviewees, but the creators are still very much excited about other aspects of the deep-dive format.
“Thinking about a story episodically is super fun, just as a challenge as a journalist,” Snyder says. “That was the first time we’d ever done it and now that we’re doing it again, it made me realize I really enjoy it. It is such a cool way to tell a story. You can frame sections of it in very different ways where you feel like you’re getting across sometimes more complicated nuance and emotion and humor than maybe you could have if you were sticking to one straight story.”
Although both Koenig and Snyder remain tight-lipped about what any of their new stories are going to entail, we’ll all find out when the next chapter of the Serial saga unfolds in the fall–and from the sound of it, there will likely be more stories following very close behind.